[Self] Pep Talk

[WARNING: the “pep talk” part of this takes a while to get to…and it’s probably not all that peppy, but headed in the right direction I think…]

Hard to watch or read any news for the last few weeks and not feel a growing sense of doom for those of us who strongly support labor–not just “working people” or “the middle class” (which are categories so diffuse that they don’t capture much anymore), but Labor, as a movement.

Yesterday we took hits in Wisconsin, which most of us know about, and Michigan, which took me by surprise.  The day before, PA’s new Republican Governor, Tom Corbett, offered up a budget proposal that slashes state funding for public universities (already hovering just over 30% of our operating budgets) in half; demanding salary and benefits givebacks from public unions (at least he said it directly); and so on.  We know about the passage of SB5 in Ohio, which will likely pass the House and be signed into law soon.  Idaho legislators have voted to strip K-12 teachers of collective bargaining rights.

And this is, as we all know, just the beginning.  Actually, no it isn’t.  The effort to kill labor has been growing, steadily, for a long time now.  Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the Air Traffic Controllers’ union is a more (but still not entirely accurate) marker of the onset of this strategy.  We can leave it to the labor historians to duke out dates, but the point is that what we’re seeing right now isn’t new; it’s more frontal and more public than we’ve seen–as far as I know, we haven’t seen this level of attack on organized labor since about the 1940s)–but it hasn’t popped up from nowhere.

A lot of my liberal friends will disagree with me here (although a lot will agree, too), but one of the major enablers of the current attacks on labor is the national Democratic Party, which has taken Labor for granted for a very long time now.  And that’s partly Labor’s fault, too, for living in an “At least they’re not Republicans” paradigm.  Dems know Labor won’t desert them, so they vacuum up campaign contributions and organizing/mobilizing energy during elections and then do nothing to support Labor in between.  The Dems could have passed EFCA quite easily had they wanted to, instead of just sweeping it under the rug.  The Dems could have told the Republicans to shove the Bush tax cuts up their bums because we need that money to pay things that actual human beings need.  But they haven’t, and there’s little reason to believe that will change in any future I can imagine.

So where does that leave the actual working people, the people on whose labor this country depends, to turn for support?  All that’s really left, it seems, is each other.  There are millions of us.  We don’t have the cash that Waltons and Kochs and Gateses and Soroses have on hand.  We don’t have the weapons that wingnut militias have lying around.  We don’t have legislatures in our pockets like our self-appointed neo-liberal corporate masters have.

And you know what?  I’m finding myself less and less troubled about those problems as every minute goes by.  Why?  Because the institutions they ru[i]n only continue to work as long as we the people continue to support them.

Whose money are the rich stealing?  Ours!  How do we stop that from happening?  Don’t spend money on stupid crap; buy from union shops; tell the bad guys that you’re boycotting them; make a stink in every setting where people are giving money to culprits of exploitation.

Why do corrupt quasi-representative government institutions continue to sell us down the river?  Because we let them–by voting, or not voting, and then pretending like we’ve discharged our duty as citizens until the next Election Day.  We have to make demands and fight for them.  We have to confront lawmakers and executives face-to-face.  We have to demand that the self-annointed answer hard questions in public, and lambaste their empty answers.

On Facebook yesterday, two of my friends started calling for a General Strike, and quite honestly I think we have to start thinking about that.  If Labor, as a movement, is going to mean anything in this country, it’s time for its proponents to think really hard about throwing down the gauntlet.  For too long, our culture has subscribed to the “What’s good for _____ [fill in the blank with corporate quasi-capitalist behemoth] is good for America” logic, and it’s proven time and again to be a lie.  Why not, “What’s good for American workers is good for America?”

What’s so damn hard about that?

Or put another way:  We’ve allowed ourselves to be pigeon-holed as a “special interest” for too long.  What could be less “special interest” than the basic economic security of the huge majority of the population?  There is only a small cabal (the real “special interests”) to whom our basic economic security doesn’t matter.  We can no longer wait around for those very elite, wealthy, selfish, solipsistic, inhumane people to come to their senses, to wake up, to have an epiphany, to see the Lord (or Karl Marx, or Lech Walesa, or whoever).  We can do this without them.


8 Responses to [Self] Pep Talk

  1. Ryan Placchetti says:

    There wasn’t much pep in there, Seth. And I feel like ass saying this, but somebody has to do something. That statement embodies the indelible nothing that has led to our current system of mismanagement.

    • sethkahn says:

      I know. It’s hard to not drop into hollow desperation, which is the negative side of rah-rah exhortation. I’d hoped to avoid that tone but apparently haven’t–at least to the one person who’s responded. I suppose if anybody feels provoked, and nobody feels even more disempowered, I still stuck a toe in the right direction (nifty mixed metaphor, yes?).

  2. Laurie Ann says:

    Each day, the news brings some other horrorshow into my kitchen. Union busting governors; attack on public employees; attack on public education…today? GA’s state senators have approved a measure to make abortions be required to be performed in a hospital…..c’mon. They cite safety…really?

    I am really worried, sad, and scared for me and my country. what is going on? we are really under attack…every day there’s some new assault on us….and yet, people are cheering them on????

  3. Bill says:

    Why the outrage? The disruptive and childish behavior of liberal protesters in Wisconsin reminds me of what happened in Greece when the government employees rioted because the retirement age was raised from 60 to 62 in order to save the country from utter fiscal collapse. Less violence, but same principle. They behave like uncivilized animals. Besides, it seems like at least half of them are college-age young people who are just there because they don’t know any better and they think they are standing up for worker’s rights. I heard that some students from nearby UW were boycotting classes to join the lunacy. I’m sure their far left professors have nothing to do with this…

    Facts simply don’t matter to those on the left when it comes to this issue. The only thing this bill will do is strip government unions of the privilege to bargain over benefits but it would still allow them to bargain about salary. This is not an assault on unions but I won’t be shy about the fact that I think the public sector union thugs have shown us that it’s high time we do assault the government unions. Left wing thugs like Michael Moore have declared war against civilized non-union society (notice the absence of liberal outrage over his use of the word war) and I say we destroy the unions. If these people want war then war they will get. One state at a time, let’s destroy these criminal worker-exploiting enterprises.

    The Democrats ought to quit their feigned outrage because we know what’s going on. They are beholden to the public sector unions. They get millions of dollars every campaign cycle of money that is forcefully taken from the public sector workers by union thugs. And that money comes from overly lavish pay and benefits that are ceded to the unions by their Democrat pawns. It’s an endless cycle of corruption that must be busted. Why don’t we just give millions of dollars in taxpayer money each election cycle to Democrats and abolish the government unions? Why the middle man?

    Democrats are making me angry for many other reasons. They are outraged that a vote on the bill occurred without debate? Well I wonder why? Maybe because the Democrats ran away like spoiled brats when they weren’t going to get their way. Even if they had gotten a full 24 hours notice they still wouldn’t have come back. Who do they think they’re fooling? They have no room to complain that the Republicans violated procedural rules. How about the procedural rule that says they must be at work? They are fugitives; if they crossed over into Wisconsin they would be arrested and dragged, kicking and screaming like the little brats that they are, to the state Senate chamber. They ought to be angry at nobody but their sorry selves. They lost and the people of Wisconsin (with the exception of Union thugs and Democrat politicians who benefit from them) won. What a shame.

    As for the union people who are getting false doctor’s notes and skipping work to cause trouble in the Capitol building they ought to be equally ashamed. How stupid are these people? Is this how you show Wisconsin taxpayers that you don’t deserve your lavish benefits to be slightly reduced? Shame on them and every liberal in this country who sides with them.

    • sethkahn says:

      OK, Bill, your tone here is unbelievably disrespectful. And I expect you’re going to be mad that I said so, and adopt the exact same tone as you tell me what a stupid liberal jerk I am for saying so.

      Let’s put it this way: every time you’ve walked into a classroom at West Chester, you’ve been in a room with a public sector union member, or somebody who has benefitted from the efforts of a public sector union. When you wrote, in our last exchange, that you respect your faculty, it seems like this piece of the puzzle didn’t occur to you. I refuse to have a conversation with somebody who would say what you’re saying about something I’m utterly committed to (public sector unions) because I know what they do well, and what they don’t. I understand what they’re actually about, and what they’re not. I’m not the least bit ashamed to support people who have made a lifetime professional and political commitment, and who erupt in anger with both are threatened by somebody as corrupt as Scott Walker.

      I’m going to stop now. You, just like in your last post on my other thread and in your column in the Quad, say that you try to maintain a tone of respectful exchange. No, you don’t. Your tone here is really, really nasty and dismissive towards people (actual people, not just job titles and salaries) you don’t know, you’ve never met or talked to, and obviously haven’t tried to have the tiniest bit of sympathy for. If you won’t even try to imagine what they might be doing from their point of view, and choose instead to bludgeon them with the kind of stuff you seem happy to throw around, I don’t see much point in talking about it.

      There’s almost no way for me to answer the points you’re making because they’re so detached from the reality of what’s actually been happening.

      • Bill says:

        I’m sorry you feel that way about my tone. It is insulting that you say you expect me to call you a “stupid liberal jerk.” You are obviously not stupid because you are a professor and I don’t think you are a jerk. I think we can both agree about the lbieral part though…

        I am only reacting to what I see. Some of the protesters are behaving in a highly uncivilized manner. There’s death threats against the lawmakers, signs comparing Walker to Hitler, calling for his death, etc. They are showing a disdain for democracy all the while claiming that’s what they support. For example, they tried to prevent lawmakers from getting into the chamber to vote on the legislation. Civilized members of democracies don’t do that. Civilized members of society don’t call for “war” against people with who they have disagreements. If liberals didn’t preach about civility all the time this would be a little easier to handle without getting so passionate and frustrated.

        The same goes with the 14 runaway Democrats. They scream for democracy but yet they refuse to participate in the democratic process. They are using illegitimate tactics and, even if you agree with them, you should be able to recognize that they should have never run away. I thus find it ironic (but not surprising)that you would admonish me for my tone and not the protesters that are behaving in an uncivil manner and making nasty death threats. Just another example of double standards.

        I made sure it was clear that the only people I am expressing disdain toward are the Union bosses, fugitive lawmakers that get huge donations from union thugs, and teachers that used sick notes to skip work and attend the protest, and any protester behaving in a highly uncivilized manner. I hope that is clear now. Liberals that support this should be ashamed of themselves in my opinion.

        You failed to address a single one of my points and you misrepresented what I said. I support the working masses and most public sector workers are good, hard-working people who deserve to have some rights and not be bullied by corrupt union thugs. But I don’t think the Democrats care about the workers–they care about their reelection campaign coffers. The money link between government unions and Democrat politicians is undeniable fact.

        What did I say that was “detached from reality”? I have made valid points and your failure to address them is disappointing. They are very good points that I would like to see good replies to. And I mean that seriously. Maybe my arguments have adequate counterpoints that I have not thought of.

        (BTW, if you write an op-ed for the Quad, it will be published. When I am the editor I will automatically publish any article you send me as long as it meets the standards, which I don’t think would be problem. I hope you will write some things for the op-ed page. I want to have more than my own point of view every week!)

      • sethkahn says:

        You’re right; the snippy comment about how I thought you might react to this was uncalled for. Mea culpa.

        Civilized discussions don’t usually include assertions that hundreds of thousands of people with whom you disagree should be “ashamed” for taking a position you don’t like. I’m not sure what news you’re watching, but there’s been very, very little of the kind of (what you call) “uncivilized” behavior you describe. The huge majority of the protestors and events have peaceful. The police, for the first 10 days or so, said repeatedly that they weren’t seeing any problems whatsoever. The ONLY evidence of any bad behavior at the protests themselves (other than the Hitler signs, which I agree with you about) is the now widely discredited Fox News video of the reporter being “punched.”

        And I firmly agree that whoever made death threats against the GOP senators belongs in prison for doing it. Neither am I alone in that. As somebody who’s received death threats at my home, I empathize very strongly with the awful feeling those cause. And all they’re meant to do is create fear and silence. I hope they get them.

        Uh, nobody tried to prevent anybody from getting into the chamber to vote except the GOP Reps who locked the doors so the Dems couldn’t get in. The video is clear; 40 Democratic legislators pounding on the doors trying to get into the chamber.

        I’m not especially proud of the 14 Dem senators for leaving the state. As often as I’ve said, “If you believe you’re on the right side of the argument, go win it,” it’s hard for me to support that action. I’m less offended by it than you are because I firmly support their side of the issue.

        Does that cut both ways, by the way? Are you mad at Scott Walker and the GOP senators who insisted for weeks that the non-financial parts of the bill were, in fact, financial, but when they needed a procedural trick to pass the anti-union provisions, they “changed their minds?” And the same people who insisted for weeks that the bill couldn’t be amended, until they needed to amend it so they could pass it? Can you really, in good conscience, believe that was “democracy?” Really? I’d be more amenable to a tit-for-tat kind of argument, but to say one sleazy trick was OK but the other wasn’t? No can do.

        As for teachers and other folks who “sicked out” to go to protests, I actually have no problem with that at all. Notice that the teachers very quickly went back to work, and in fact most workers resumed normal schedules; the protests happened *on top of that*, except for those first couple of days. Given what was happening, they had every right to make a hugely spectacular statement, which they did; nobody got hurt, nobody suffered from it. I have a hard time believing you’d be so indignant about it if your disdain for public union members weren’t so overwhelming.

        Which becomes even clearer in your next paragraph (as it was in your op-ed) when you refer to “union bosses” and “union thugs,” terms which are so outrageously offensive to me, personally, that I can’t imagine what you’re doing besides being provocative by using them. I’m a leader in our faculty union–does that make me a thug? How so? It’s an empty accusation. So is the assertion of corruption. Really? Show me any evidence of public union corruption in Wisconsin–or anywhere else for that matter. And I mean real, honest corruption–not “I don’t like what they did so I’ll call it corrupt.” Moreover, it’s kind, albeit somewhat patronizing, of you to say that the common working people are OK, but you seem to miss the point that they’re union members, for the most part, and by choice. So they opt into the very organization you accuse of “bullying” them. It’s nonsense.

        I won’t dispute that Democrats care more about campaign contributions than about workers. The very post that set off this discussion says exactly that. Yes, government unions very largely support Dem candidates. Gee, I wonder why? Given what the GOP in Wisconsin, OH, IN, TN, and very likely PA are doing to attack them at this moment, why on Earth would you expect otherwise?

        The reality I think you’re detached from is any sense of the actual people out on the streets in Madison (or Columbus, OH; or Indianapolis; and lots of others looming on the horizon) and what their actual motives are. It’s very easy for you to make claims about why they’re out there, what they support, what their character is like, and so on–except that you don’t really know and don’t much seem to want to find out. Anybody who could speak as confidently as you do, about a movement comprised of hundreds of thousands (as it grows, we’re actually heading towards millions, I think) of people you don’t know, fighting for something they believe in very strongly that you dismiss as union thuggery… I’m sorry, that’s detached. I actually do know people who have been involved in those protests; I know people who are members and leaders in public unions all over the country. I know a lot more about what actually motivates us than you do, and yes, it strikes a very sour chord when you seem to think you’re entitled to say whatever you want about them without even trying to find out if you’re right. Sorry, maybe “entitled” isn’t the right word there. Of course you’re free to–First Amendment and all that.

        I probably won’t write for the Quad, and certainly wouldn’t expect or want any special consideration if I did. One reason I do the blog is to remove the restraints on shrillness that publishable texts have. I did last year about the smoking ban, but it was a rare occasion where I was in a position to say something most people couldn’t–as a (now former) smoker, calling for smokers to be considerate, I thought it might make a little dent in the issue. It didn’t, but it was worth a try. Anyway, I appreciate the sentiment.

  4. Laurie Ann says:

    As a public school teacher, in a so-called “right to work state,” (read: unionizing is illegal), I watched with horror at what has happened in Wisconsin.

    I am so sick of UNIONS being demonized, while Koch has apparently bought Wisconsin (and their governor) lock, stock, and barrel.

    Where’s the outrage over the Wall Street mess? Why aren’t conservatives screaming over the huge bonuses on top of bailouts?

    Trust me, I don’t make much. I have two advanced degrees, that, in the private sector, would garner me more respect and money…I choose to teach in a public school because I believe in what I am doing.

    We are not the enemy.

    I would venture a guess that the “evil,thug-like” union members collectively pay more taxes that Koch does….

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